Sunday, June 10, 2012

Dark Shadows

The phrase "hot mess" comes to mind when viewing Dark Shadows. A lot.

But really, Tim Burton should be happy to have "hot" anywhere near one of his movies these days.

My mother tells me I loved the "Dark Shadows" TV show. I have a pretty good memory. I remember nursery school (which I started at 21 months) and lying in my crib and our first TV (my dad hated the things so we never had one till we got it as a gift). But I don't remember watching that show.

Which is probably just as well, because this really doesn't have much to do with it, except that it concerns the exploits of a vampire in modern times. Where modern times is the '70s, anyway. (I look at The Boy and do the math: A movie about '72 is as modern for him as a movie about WWII was for me at his age. Chew on that for a while.)

The premise is lifted from Thorne Smith's last screenplay I Married A Witch (later the inspiration for Bell, Book and Candle and "Bewitched"), in that Barnabas Collins is cursed when he spurns a witch's love. Only in this case, instead of being doomed to unhappy romances in all his subsequent incarnations, he's turned into a vampire. And if that's not bad enough (and by gosh don't you think it oughtta be?) he's buried for 400 years until uncovered in an excavation.

Whereupon he murders nine construction workers in a rather horrific display.

That would be our hero.

Then it's camp time! The bloodied, archaic Johnny Depp—whose makeup through the whole thing is campy in its awful obviousnessness—wanders around the '70s for a while until he finds his old estate where his listless descendants live, their riches drained by the same evil witch (Eva Green, Casino Royale) whose desire for destruction didn't stop with him.

You know, it's always a mistake for Burton to try to do a hero story. Barnabas is supposed to be the hero, but he's killing people right and left. Innocent people. And his only excuse is that it's the witch's curse. Not his fault.

There is some humor found in here. It's not the boring mess that Alice In Wonderland was, at least not until the end when it devolves into a kind of low-rent-Superhero-meets-Beetlejuice set piece. But tonally, it doesn't know what it wants to be, and undermines the heroic narrative, and the comedy narrative is undermined by the graphic horror, with the drama undermined by the comedy, and the whole thing undermined by some really bad special effects.

The Flower picked it as her birthday movie and was not disappointed. So, y'know. If you're an eleven-year-old girl, maybe. The Boy didn't hate it but he thought it just didn't work on most levels.

I really didn't hate it either. I was expecting much worse.

It's been almost 20 years since Tim Burton and Johnny Depp collaborated on Ed Wood, which is a great, great film where Burton's quirks fit perfectly in with the romantic retelling of a bizarre artist's life. I'm beginning to suspect them of milking my good feelings of that film at this point.


  1. I love Depp and Ed Wood is a great film. The reviews of Dark Shadows caused me to put it on the back burner.

  2. I file he original Dark Shadows in my mind along with memories of seeing the original Universal horror films for the first time, reading about the Hammer remakes in F. J. Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland (we were too young to see them), collecting and building all the Aurora Monster Model kits, and belonging an all boy's Monster club (we each had a character). That was late elementary school for me in the late 1960's Wisconsin. Horror was big for boys then and it was mainstream. We were mostly oblivious to the real horrors happening in Vietnam--unless we thought about older brothers or cousins--even then we just heard what they told us. Monsters and horror were pure escapism for us. I suppose it still is.


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